The Orthodox Church observes four major Lenten periods each year. Of these, the most important and significant is Great Lent preceding Easter and lasting for seven weeks. A Lenten period comes before any of the major feasts of the Church as an opportunity to come into the fullness of the feast and to appreciate the significance of the feast.
THE PREPARATION FOR GREAT LENT:
Great Lent is preceded by a special period of preparation known as the Triodion. During this four-week period, we are constantly informed of the approach of Lent. We are instructed to expect its coming and accept its teachings and message. Through special moving prayers, hymns, services and Biblical readings and through a gradual elimination of rich and luxurious foods, we are prepared to welcome Great Lent.
During the Triodion, Meat Fare Sunday is the last day that we are allowed to eat meat, and Cheese Fare Sunday is the last day we are allowed to have milk, cheese, and other dairy products.
Monday after Cheese Fare Sunday is the first day of Great Lent. It is known as “Pure Monday” or “Clean Monday” because it marks the official beginning of the Lenten period and is a day of strict fasting from foods and of exerting spiritual “exercise” through good works, reading the writings of the Church Teachers and scripture and by attending the Sacrament of Confession.
PURPOSE OF GREAT LENT:
Great Lent was set aside by the Holy Fathers of our Church as a special period of prayer, meditation, self-examination and self-denial – as a sublime instance during which we might be able to exercise our Christian principles and ideals.
Through the means offered us by Great Lent, we become better Christians, better people, and better children of god, worthy of receiving the Blessings and the grace of the Holy Resurrection.
During Great Lent, Orthodox Christians primarily fast mentally and spiritually by reviewing their personal life with all its sins, faults, evil habits and shortcomings. They make every effort to abolish these things from their lives by instituting genuine changes for the better. They deny themselves pleasures and make many profound and sincere sacrifices. They bear their hardships in patience and faith and are watchful in their words, deeds, thoughts and actions. They live in strict discipline, as Jesus did during His fast of forty days before His Crucifixion. And finally, they ask forgiveness from those whom they have hurt or wronged.
During Lent, Orthodox Christians give consideration to acts of charity and mercy, by visiting the sick, consoling the unfortunate and giving assistance to the poor and needy.
Orthodox Christians also fast physically during Lent. They refrain from rich and luxurious foods. They deny themselves all physical pleasures so that they may strengthen their willpower, cleanse their bodies and be assisted in their endeavor to improve themselves combating sin, evil and the devil.
HOW TO FAST DURING LENT:
When considering our fasting rule, it is helpful to consider what we did last year and increase our fast. What does this mean? It means to attempt to fast from all meats, fish with bones (shell fish are permitted) and dairy products. Together with that, let us commit ourselves to attend all services including Sunday liturgy. If we fall short or are unable to do all of the above, let us not be discouraged; rather, let us do the best we can.
FOODS ALLOWED DURING LENT:
SEAFOOD: Lobster, crab, shrimp, squid, octopus and all kinds of shellfish and tarama
VEGETABLES: All kinds, fresh or canned
FRUITS: All kinds, fresh, canned or preserved
JUICES: Fruit and vegetable
SWEETS: Jam, jelly, marmalade, halvah and tahini
MISCELLANEOUS: Beans, lentils, split peas, olives, pickles, etc.
STARCH: Rice, spaghetti, macaroni (without egg content), etc.
NOTE: If olive oil is used, let it be used sparingly.